EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Greens unveil their social agenda
, October 2, 2010
With the resumption of federal parliament, it is now becoming clear how the Greens intend to advance their social agenda with the assistance of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.
While some were expecting that the Greens would give first priority to environmental issues on which they claim a mandate - including the re-introduction of a 40 per cent mining profits tax and mandatory cuts in CO2 emissions - Greens' leader Bob Brown announced that he will push to repeal the 1996 Commonwealth law which overrides attempts in the ACT and Northern Territory to legalise euthanasia.
Simultaneously, the Prime Minister foreshadowed that Labor MPs would have a conscience vote on the issue, implying that she would also give a euthanasia bill precedence over Labor's own legislative program.
This is a re-run of the technique used recently in Victoria by Labor and the Greens to get their abortion bill through state parliament, and a similar attempt to get a euthanasia bill carried in South Australia last year.
In both cases, state Labor governments set side their own legislative program to give the Greens time to introduce the legislation in state parliament. The effect of this was that Labor facilitated the passage of the legislation, but was able to claim that the party had no position on the issue and was simply facilitating a conscience vote.
The determination of the pro-euthanasia lobby to win support for its position is evident from the fact that euthanasia legislation is currently being pushed in several states.
The Western Australian Greens upper house MP, Robin Chapple, introduced legislation in the WA parliament last year in support of voluntary euthanasia for any terminally ill person over the age of 21 who asked for it. Debate on his bill commenced last week.
In South Australia, Labor minister Stephanie Key recently announced that she intended to introduce an amendment to an existing law, the Consent to Medical Treatment and Palliative Care Act, to permit voluntary euthanasia. Similar efforts are under way in other states.
The argument in favour of voluntary euthanasia is based on moral confusion and misplaced compassion. It assumes that modern medicine is unable to relieve pain, and that there is no difference between putting an animal down and euthanasia.
As these are widely-held beliefs, they need to be examined further. Every civilised society is marked by respect for human life - particularly the most vulnerable - and a refusal to countenance the deliberate taking of human life, either one's own life (suicide) or another's (murder).
The development of palliative care medicine is based on the need to provide compassionate and comprehensive treatment for people facing death: to relieve their physical symptoms, give pain relief, and to provide psychological and spiritual support for those facing death. Those who practise in the field are emphatic that palliative care provides the necessary support for those who are incurably ill.
Euthanasia, as proposed in Australia, is physician-assisted suicide. It requires a medical practitioner to cooperate in helping a person to die. It makes a medical practitioner, whose profession is to preserve life, an agent in ending it.
There are doctors, such as the notorious Dr Philip Nitschke, who are willing to do this; but they are a distinct minority, and are on the fringes of medical practice.
It is interesting to note that Dr Nitschke finds that there is no moral difference between a terminally ill patient facing immediate death and young people in their 20s who, suffering a bout of depression, wants to end their life by suicide. There can be little doubt that once euthanasia is legalised for a few cases, the grounds on which it will be permitted will eventually expand to include almost anyone.
This is the lesson from Holland, where euthanasia was originally permitted to deal with a few extreme cases, and is now commonly practised, whether patients want it or not.
And this is not the worst of it. Suicide is one of the most serious problems in contemporary Australian society, and legalising euthanasia will aggravate this problem by validating suicide.
More people die every year by suicide than die on Australia's roads and, according to a 2008 study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, suicide accounted for one-fifth of the deaths of young men aged between 20 and 34.
It is interesting to note that since Australia's federal parliament voted to prevent euthanasia in 1996, Australia's suicide rate has declined by about 40 per cent.
It would be a tragedy for Australia if, as a result of the convergence of a number of factors - a hung Parliament, the elevation by right-wing Labor faction bosses of a left-wing humanist as Prime Minister, and the Greens having the balance of power in the Senate - the social fabric of Australia is utterly transformed.
That is certainly the agenda of Dr Bob Brown and the Greens, and appears to be that of Prime Minister Gillard.Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.